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    Santa Paula Council: Special Study Session Wastewater Plant

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    By Sheryl Hamlin


    Initially, the city was faced with fines for distributing waste into the river, hence the “new” plant was designed. But after the plant was launched in 2010, the chlorides in the surrounding well water increased with deleterious effect on local agriculture. Having tried a home water softener buyback program, the city’s chloride level at the plant decreased but not enough to meet standards. The Water Board issued a Cease and Desist Order in 2018 with a ten year time to solve the chloride issue.

    Source: MKN

    Public Speakers

    Dave Lippert, whose family lives near the percolation ponds and participated in the 2006-07 meetings about the plant, said the chlorides have increased since the plant was put into production. They have lost trees. The chloride solution (reverse osmosis) should have been in the original solution.

    Dr. Edo McGowan spoke about public health. He said that viruses such as the Coronavirus can be found in recycled water. Hospitals produce pathogens. See article about China’s special hospital waste disposal: Medical Waste Disposal Dr. McGowan also noted regulatory evolution, which means that “legal” may not mean “safe”. What are contingency plans in Santa Paula for the water and wastewater systems, he asked? The treatment is costly, but the results of inactivity have costs.
    McGowan Resume

    Sheryl Hamlin spoke of the changes in the regulatory environment since the initial 2006-07 discussions about the plant between the council and the community:

    -2016 Expert panel on Antibiotic resistance in wastewater (State of CA Waterboard)
    -2019 Proposed Framework for Direct Potable Reuse (State of CA Waterboard)
    -2019 Water Conservation Executive Order (Governor Newsom)
    -2019 PFA contamination in water (State of CA Waterboard)
    -2019 EPA Project on PFAs which includes wastewater and biosolids

    The issues with wastewater have gone beyond chlorides. Entire statement is here:
    Hamlin Statement

    Woody Maxwell said he sat in this council room over a decade ago listening to Cliff Finley talk about the state-of-the art plant, which of course did not occur. It must be state-of-the-art now. The 110 ppm at the monitoring wells include chlorides already in groundwater, so must be less at the plant. Reverse Osmosis (RO) should have been in original plant. His in-laws, the Malzachers, died because their lifetime investment was “trashed” by the plant. See lawsuit between Malzacher estate and the city: Lawsuit

    MKN Presentation

    In 2019, MKN produced a report of nine (9) alternatives which was submitted to the Waterboard. See original 9 options here: Original 9 Options

    Since the original report, MKN has revisited the study and produced a new report with four options, one of which was in the 2019 report, a joint project with Limoneira to pipe water from the plant west and one (Option 3) was also in the original. Although conceptually feasible, there is no agreement yet with Limoneira. Since Limoneira cannot use all of the recycled water, the chloride mitigation would not be as dramatic as cleaning all of the wastewater. CEO Edwards, who was in attendance at the meeting said several times that they were looking at $350 per acre foot as a cost, an unknown at this point because the alternative is not fully costed. The map below shows the pipeline and the area of service in yellow.

    Alternative 1, Source: MKN

    Three other alternatives:

    Alternative 2: RO the source water.
    Alternative 3: RO the effluent at the plant.
    Alternative 4: Blend wastewater with local well water

    Source: MKN, does not include brine removal for alternative 2


    Harold Edwards, CEO Limoneira, spoke. As the biggest basin pumper, the water quality is critical. Avocados are best at 80 mgl chlorides, but lemons are more tolerant. He suggested appealing to citizens to remove water softeners and working with the Farm Bureau. Seven years of draught depleted the water tables. The Oxnard Plain is over pumped and is burdened with saltwater intrusion. Santa Paula Basin Pumpers (SPBP) was formed for an orderly use of the basin water. The city of Santa Paula’s allocation is 5000 afy (acre feet per year). United Water Conservation suggested the SPBP allocation be cut. Limoneira is now using “yield enhancement” strategies whereby they take water from the east and pump the the west where the water is more laden with chlorides. UWCD agreed that recycled water could be part of the “yield enhancement”. Ideal solution would be to RO and percolate all clean water.

    There was discussion about the use of the SCWW (Santa Clara Wastewater) pipeline. MKN suggested the cost to clean the pipeline would exceed building a new pipeline. Clete Saunier, the Public Works Director, said the title to the easements of the SCWW pipeline are in question. Note this business is being sold at auction in March 2020. March 2020 sale

    The council discussed funding with MKN saying there is funding from the State with lots of competition. City Manager Singer said that the costs of option 3 might be $180 per year per wastewater user, however, this could be offset by selling the wastewater. Offsetting revenues were not part of the analysis at this point.

    Council Member Crosswhite noted that Alternative 4 meant using scarce groundwater about which CEO Edwards had just spoken.

    CEO Edwards said there should be a “collaborative solution” from here west. Note that in the Hamlin statement, there is a recommendation for a “Regional Wastewater Strategy Council” which unfortunately was not included in the public statement due to time constraints. This is exactly the strategy that should be pursued. By pooling resources and talent and better solution can be obtained.

    Mayor Araiza noted that the costs are not getting any cheaper and that ten years ago the RO system would have been half what is now estimated.

    With less than six months for the next milestone imposed by the Waterboard, the council directed staff to flush out Alternative 3 and work with Limoneira on Alternative 1.

    Note that Council Member Garman was absent and Council Member Juarez recused himself due to ownership in Limoneira stock.

    The meeting was not taped or recorded. But the staff report can be read here: Meeting Staff Report

    For more about the author, click sherylhamlin dot com

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